French killer 'The Serpent' givenlife for US tourist murder

12th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

KATHMANDU, Aug 12 (AFP) - Charles Sobhraj, the infamous serial killer of Western backpackers in Asia in the 1970s, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison in Nepal over the death of an American woman in 1975.

KATHMANDU, Aug 12 (AFP) - Charles Sobhraj, the infamous serial killer of Western backpackers in Asia in the 1970s, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison in Nepal over the death of an American woman in 1975.  

The 60-year-old French national, who was nicknamed "The Serpent" for his cunning escapes from the law and who resurfaced last year when he was arrested at a Kathmandu casino, said he would appeal the verdict.  

"I have been declared guilty without proof and without witnesses," Sobhraj, wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap, told reporters at the end of the three-hour hearing.  

Sobhraj, who was freed in 1997 after 21 years in prison in India, was sentenced to life in jail by Kathmandu District Judge Biswanbhar Prasad Shrestha, who said any property Sobhraj owned in Nepal would be seized.  

Court registrar B.B. Bastola said Sobhraj was found guilty of killing US tourist Connie Bronizch, whose charred remains were discovered in 1975 during the heyday of the Kathmandu hippie scene.  

Sobhraj has also been accused of the murder the same year in Kathmandu of Canadian hiker Laurent Armand Carrierre, but that killing came under the jurisdiction of a separate court in the Kathmandu suburb of Bhaktapur.  

Sobhraj has the right to appeal to a higher court. Nepal does not have the death penalty.  

Born in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, to an Indian father and Vietnamese mother who remarried a Frenchman, Sobhraj allegedly left Nepal after the 1975 killings using a false passport.  

Believed to be a compulsive gambler, Sobhraj was taken into custody in September 2003 early in the morning at the all-night casino of the luxury Yak and Yeti hotel in Kathmandu.  

Sobhraj has insisted he was innocent. He told AFP last year that he had come to Nepal, risking prosecution, because he was working on a documentary film about local handicrafts.   Biographers have described Sobhraj as a charmer, a seducer and a master jewel chief.  

In an interview with Richard Neville, the author of a 1979 biography on him, Sobhraj said: "As long as I can talk to people, I can manipulate them."  

Just last month, Sobhraj boasted that Nepalese authorities would free him soon.  

Sobhraj started his career with petty crimes in France before moving overseas in 1963 and being implicated in thefts in Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

He soon became part of the burgeoning drug scene and worked his charm on young English-speaking and French-speaking tourists travelling in Asia in search of adventure or enlightenment.  

The most infamous incident in which Sobhraj was implicated was the so-called "Bikini Murders" in the 1970s when young Western women were found drugged and killed at Thailand's Pattaya beach resort.  

The law finally caught up with Sobhraj in 1976 in India, when he was taken away in handcuffs after a French tourist, Luc Salomon, died from poisoning at a hotel in New Delhi.  

Sobhraj managed a daring jail break in 1986 when he fled New Delhi's high-security Tihar prison after reportedly offering the guards cakes, cookies and grapes laced with sleeping pills. He was caught 22 days later at a fish restaurant in the Indian coastal resort of Goa and returned to the jail.  

Afterwards, Sobhraj was not believed to have been interested in escaping Tihar - where he was so skilful securing amenities fellow inmates called him "Sir Charles" - but to have been more concerned with ensuring new legal proceedings in India to avoid extradition to Thailand.  

By the time Sobhraj was released in 1997, too many years had passed for Thailand to prosecute the "Bikini Murders," which could have led to the death penalty.  

India deported Sobhraj to France at the end of his jail term after a 47-day standoff in which Paris re-verified his nationality and New Delhi threatened to dump him at the French embassy.  

Sobhraj moved to the Chinese quarter of Paris, where in interviews he would wistfully call his life a tribute to Asia and rejection of the West.




Subject: French news









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